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USA, China find common cyber-enemy within

Careful diplomatic language suggests hackers work in China, not for China

By Simon Sharwood, 14 Sep 2015

Chinese president Xi Jinping visits Washington later this month and ahead of the leader's trip the USA and China have come to some sort of a “consensus on cyber security”.

Last week in the USA, Chinese cabinet member Meng Jianzhu met with US secretary of state John Kerry, secretary of the Department of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson and US national security advisor Susan Rice.

At those meetings, says state-controlled organ Xinhua, Meng made it clear that China does not tolerate “cyber attacks and commercial cyber espionage” and will apply the law of the land to those it finds participating in such schemes.

Another Chinese official, Foreign Ministry spokesman Hong Le, offered similar sentiments in a rebuttal of US director of national intelligence James Clapper's Thursday assertion that China and Russia are the USA's biggest online threats. “The Chinese government firmly opposes and cracks down on all types of hackers,” Hong said, again distancing Beijing from the deeds of actors who happen to work from Chinese soil.

President Obama weighed in, giving a speech at a 9/11 memorial event in which he said “We've made very clear to the Chinese that there are certain practices that they’re engaging in that we know are emanating from China and are not acceptable. And we can choose to make this an area of competition — which I guarantee you we'll win if we have to — or, alternatively, we can come to an agreement in which we say, this isn't helping anybody; let’s instead try to have some basic rules of the road in terms of how we operate.”

Obama went on to say “... one of our first and most important efforts has to be to get the states that may be sponsoring cyber-attacks to understand that there comes a point at which we consider this a core national security threat and we will treat it as such.”

Obama's use of the word “emanating” may be noteworthy, as coming on top of the two Chinese officials' insistence that the Middle Kingdom is tough on hacking and tough on the causes of hacking, it suggests that the USA and China have found a common enemy in the form of those who launch online attacks from Chinese soil.

That the issue has been ventilated, and seemingly sorted out, ahead of the presidential tête-à-tête is also notable as it looks a lot like neither nation wanted the issue of online security to play significant role in the the meeting. The date of President Xi's visit remains secret, but with Indian president Narendra Modi meeting Obama on September 28th we can probably rule out that Monday as the date for the Sino-American meeting. ®

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